Rapid ice melt could permanently alter the Arctic ecosystem and trigger catastrophic events as far as the Indian Ocean if greenhouse gas emissions are left unchecked, according to a Stockholm Environment Institute Arctic Resilience Report.

Two scientists from the ICESCAPE mission study how changing conditions in the Arctic affect the ocean's chemistry and ecosystems. Kathryn Hansen / NASA

The five-year study identified 19 climate tipping points—which irreversibly alter ecosystems due to sudden or overwhelming change—that "can and have occurred" in the Arctic, including increased vegetation on the tundra that could cause more heat absorption, the collapse of important fisheries and higher methane release. "Human-driven climate change greatly increases the risk of Arctic regime shifts, so reducing global greenhouse gas emissions is crucial to reducing this risk," the report says.

In mid-November, temperatures in the Arctic region reached 36 F (20 C) above normal.

Responding to Arctic change: a selection of 25 case studies from across the Arctic were analyzed for this report. The cases illustrate both loss of resilience and resilience, including instances of transformational change. Hugo Ahlenius / Nordpil

For a deeper dive:

News: Guardian, Independent, WIRED, Christian Science Monitor, UPI, Phys.org

Commentary: Virginian-Pilot editorial

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